Why does the nurse in Medea say she prefers not to be great?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Euripides had a tradition of not just supporting the cause of women, but also of slaves, and it is interesting that in some ways the Nurse in this play is presented as being the most sensible and wisest of all characters. It is she who observes what is going on around her and what is happening to her mistress, Medea, and concludes that it is much better for people to live a normal life than try to live a life that is special or extraordinary. Note what she says after witnessing the life of royalty:

Ruthless is the temper of royalty:
How much better to live among equals.
Let me decline in a safe old age.

To the Nurse, from what she has observed, she recognises that to live a life of privilege is only to face a life that is above all else "Ruthless," as is shown through the way that Medea is treated by Jason. Her words therefore are incredibly wise. It is much safer to "live among equals" than to try and live a life that is defined by great status, prestige or wealth. Her prayer is to be allowed to "decline in safe old age," which shows she values a simple but uneventful life over one that others might feel they desire. This is a very sage example to follow in today's world, where we crave celebrity culture and all wish that we might be catapulted into stardom. It is clear the Nurse would have some very strong words indeed to say about such a desire. 

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